Michael R. Franklin
Licensed Real Estate Broker
(o) 315-876-2262
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Billy Martin's Private Lake

135 Potter Hill Road Port Crane, NY 13833

Michael DeRosa
Licensed Real Estate Broker & Auctioneer
CNY Office 315.406.7355 NYC Office 212.757.1550
MichaelDeRosa@TheInternationalExchange.us

Bids starting at $500,000 plus 10% buyers premium.

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I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest. Billy Martin


 

Billy Martin, baseball's brawling legend
Matt Damsker, Special for USA TODAY Published 2:02 p.m. ET April 18, 2015


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(Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Story Highlights

 

The eternal return of baseball season invites a special nostalgia for a time when the game's greats didn't seem like the hothouse athletes of today so much as a national register of regular guys. Tall, short, skinny, fat: Baseball legends came in every shape, like the rest of us, yet managed to awe us with their unlikely mastery of a sport that has more facets than a well-cut gem.

In most cases, they were rough diamonds — on the diamond — and few came rougher than Billy Martin, as chronicled in Bill Pennington's peerless new biography, Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius (***½ out of four).

From his hardscrabble Italian-American origins in West Oakland, Calif., Martin broke in as a second baseman for the New York Yankees in the 1950s, and wound up managing the Yankees, and other teams, in the course of 16 stormy seasons.

Martin's time was marked by on- and off-field fisticuffs, much drinking, multiple divorcing and a lot of winning. He famously kicked dirt at uncooperative umpires, feuded in the dugout with Reggie Jackson, and got along, it seemed, with no one.

He was complicated and conflicted (he even suffered a nose job to tame his ethnic snout), his dark side coexisting with a likability and charisma that made him a fan favorite. He knew the intricacies and psychology of the game better than most, and could out-manage the likes of Casey Stengel, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Torre and Sparky Anderson (Martin had a higher winning percentage than those and other equally renowned skippers).

Remarkably, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hired and fired him five separate times as manager of the Bronx Bombers in the 1970s and '80s. (Martin died at age 61 in a 1989 pickup truck accident just outside his upstate New York home.) It amounts to a big, sprawling story of a big, brawling life, and no one has a better purchase on it than Pennington, The New York Times scribe who knew Martin well after covering him closely for five years as a Yankees beat writer.

Pennington persuasively traces Billy's baseball genius to the luck of geography: Martin grew up near Kenney Park in West Oakland, a superb playing field where California-based baseball professionals came to train in the off-season. The young Martin, a very good but not great athlete, hung out daily with the pros, who liked him and taught him, enhancing his love of baseball with strategic insight. By the time he became a Yankee second baseman, he was a graduate student of the game.

Inevitably, Pennington's admiration for his subject makes Billy Martin somewhat hagiographic — Billy's endearing humanity is always front and center, suggesting saintly struggle. But Pennington's thorough reportage doesn't shrink from Martin's flaws, insecurities and downright bad behavior. Rightly or not, he tends to blame baseball as much as the man: "There was free booze in every clubhouse in the country. … The whole bunch of them were Mad Men before … television writers created Mad Men."

And so Billy Martin rollicks along with a cast of characters to make even a casual fan misty-eyed, as Billy carouses with the likes of Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and does battle on the field against New York's other, greater second baseman, Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

And just as the movies made hay with biopics about the immortal Robinson, it may be time to lighten — and darken — the screen with a Billy Martin film. Pennington's book is surely the stuff of a Hollywood home run.

Billy Martin: Baseball's Flawed Genius

By Bill Pennington

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

3 1/2 stars out of four

 


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